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US bases in Iraq: a costly legacy

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When President Bush told the press March 21 that it will be decided by "future presidents and future governments of Iraq" when there will be no American forces in Iraq, his words intensified speculation that several of the approximately 75 bases in Iraq will remain occupied by US forces for an extended period.

Maybe not, though.

The Iraq war has become so unpopular in this country that a resolution declaring the US has "no plan to establish a permanent ... military presence in Iraq" passed the House last month without a single Republican "nay."

The resolution was inserted into the $67.6 billion bill by Rep. Thomas Allen (D) of Maine. Mr. Allen expects that when the Senate considers a similar bill this month, his resolution - though it has no power to force action by Mr. Bush - is likely to be removed by the Republican leadership. But, he says, many Iraqis believe the real goal of the US invasion was to assure access to Iraq's huge oil reserves. The fact of permanent bases would tend to confirm that fear and thus fuel the insurgency.

That concern may be why military officials dodge the issue of permanent American bases in Iraq.

In any case, some US bases are huge. Camp Anaconda, near Balad (north of Baghdad), occupies 15 square miles, boasts two swimming pools, a gym, a miniature-golf course, and a first-run movie theater, says Mr. Jamail. Of the airbase's 20,000 occupants, fewer than 1,000 ever leave it and thereby take extra risk of attack.

Experts and academics offer various strategic reasons for the bases. Zoltan Grossman, a geographer at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., notes that since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the US has established a string of 35 new bases between Poland and Pakistan, not including the Iraqi bases. He maintains the US is establishing a "sphere of influence" in that region.

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